1963 MGB
1963 MGB. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The MGB, built from model years 1963 to 1980, was not only the longest running MG, with total production of almost half a million, but also the last “real” MG. Later mid-engined, ultra-civilized, plump and rounded models, which didn’t reach North America, were undoubtedly much superior, but the lineage is gone.

The 1956-1962 MGA was MG’s first step into modern styling, replacing the square-rigged T-Series MGs which had architecture dating back to the J-Series of the early 1930s. After seven years it was obvious that a new car was required to keep up with the competition.

Late in 1962 the MG Car Co., of Abingdon, Berkshire, announced that the MGA would be replaced by the MGB. MG was a division of the British Motor Corp., formed in 1952 through the amalgamation of the Austin Motor Co. and Morris Motors (which included MG). The new MGB was comprised of something old and something new.

A significant new was unit construction, BMC’s first unitized sports car. This provided a stiffer platform for one of the B’s oldest carry-overs, the independent coil spring front suspension that had originated with the 1947 MG Y sedan. Another tradition that carried on was a solid rear axle suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs.

Also old was the BMC B-series engine, an evolution of the overhead valve, inline four that began life with 1,200 cc in the 1948 Austin A40. Now up to 1798 cc, it produced 95 horsepower at 5500 rpm. Its life was made easier when the B’s four-speed manual transmission got the optional Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive, MG’s first use of that unit.

Another departure was the fitting of wind-up windows replacing the A’s drafty side curtains. And despite a 76 mm (3.0 in.) reduction in wheelbase to 2,311 mm (91 in.), and a 76 mm (3.0 in) reduction in overall length to 3,886 mm (153 in.), the B provided more passenger and luggage space.

The B’s styling was generally more appealing than the A’s slabsided appearance. The traditional MG grill was stretched and flattened, the headlamps were enclosed in “sugar scoop” shaped recesses, and the body had a fuller, rounder appearance.

At 943 kg (2,080 lb), the B was only some 13.6 kg (30 lb) heavier than the MGA Mark II that Road & Track tested in September 1961. Performance was just slightly improved over the MGA Mark II. R & T reported a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 12.8 seconds for the Mark II, and 12.5 seconds for the B (11/62).

Top speed was virtually identical: 169 km/h (105 mph) for the Mark II, and 171 (106) for the B. This was slightly off the pace of its strong competitor, the Triumph TR4, for which R & T (2/62) reported zero to 96 (60) in 10.5 seconds, and a top speed of 177 (110).

Britain still had the affordable sports car field pretty well to itself during the 1960s, and the MGB was a good part of the reason. Progressive changes were made during that period. A five main bearing crankshaft replaced the three-bearing for 1965, followed a couple of years later by an all-synchromesh transmission. An automatic transmission (!) was also offered for a few years, much to the chagrin of sports car enthusiasts, but was discontinued.

An attractive fastback coupe derivative, the MGB GT, joined the roadster in 1965, providing closed car comfort, more luggage capacity, and space for an occasional small passenger in the rear.

A V8 version of the MGB GT was also produced during the mid-sixties, fitted with the Rover aluminum engine originally developed by General Motors for its Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac intermediates. Unfortunately the MGB GT V8 was not officially imported to North America, although a few were brought in privately.

When the British Motor Corp. joined Leyland Motor Corp. to become British Leyland Motor Corp. in 1968, the new corporation’s affections seemed to shift to Triumph sports cars, which came from the Leyland side.

Thus the poor MGB was left to languish, receiving only the upgradings necessary to meet changing legislation. Stiffening emissions standards gradually reduced the B’s horsepower. By 1975 it was down to 62 from its original 95, although this wasn’t as bad as it sounds because horsepower was now being reported in the more stringent (and honest) SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) net figures, which are approximately 20 percent lower than the former SAE gross.

Smog controls caused the MG’s performance to suffer significantly. R & T’s June 1976 test recorded zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 18.3 seconds, down from 1962’s 12.5. Top speed dropped from 171 km/h (106) to 145 (90). Alas, because it was being largely neglected the poor MG was becoming obsolete, causing the testers to comment that “It’s truly a car of the past.”

In 1975 the B suffered another indignity. To meet U.S. bumper height requirement it was raised 38 mm (1.5 in.) on its chassis, and a huge, ungainly black front bumper-cum-grille was fitted.

MGB production ceased in October 1980 marking the end of the traditional MGs, and the closing of Abingdon by British Leyland. An important chapter in sport cars history ended when the plant was razed in 1998. But MGBs still continue to be popular collectibles, attesting to their sturdiness and fun-to-drive nature, backed up by the storied history of the marque.

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